April 13, 2010
Jill Damion had an idea of what her college experience would be like even before it started. The sister of former Gaucho tennis player Leslie Damion already knew about all UC Santa Barbara had to offer academically and athletically.
The path that seemed so clear ended up being bumpier than expected, and with a few more curves than she anticipated.
The first bump in the road was figurative and literal. Damion was in a bike accident towards the end of her freshman year that left her with a broken wrist.
After giving the broken wrist some time to heal, she began playing tennis again in the fall. The wrist did not feel fully recovered, and Damion needed surgery that caused her to miss a few more months of tennis.
The whole ordeal was just a warm-up for the next injury, which at one point appeared to be a dead end for her tennis career.
About a year ago Damion was experiencing pain in her shoulder, and it escalated to the point that she was no longer able to play tennis. She had previously torn her rotator cuff in high school, but this time the damage was severe enough that doctors warned her that there was a good chance she may never be able to play tennis again after undergoing surgery.
She was told that the best case scenario would require at least six-to-nine months of rehab before she could even consider playing tennis again. Naturally, Damion was on the court about six months later.
"Even though they said I might not play again, I had no doubt in my mind that I would," recalls Damion. "I figured what's another year of pain, I'll just work around it."
Coach Pete Kirkwood recognizes the importance of having Damion on the team for her excellent play as well as for her positive impact on her teammates.
Damion is co-captain of the team, but she has another role that may be equally as important, the "food ring-leader."
She often organizes team dinners, which contribute to the team aspect of a sport based largely on individual performances. "I've learned most of our social gatherings revolve around food," she says.
Kirkwood understands and appreciates having a player of her caliber who also plays a big role in forming the team identity. "You need someone who can make everyone laugh, and she can do that."
While her contributions to the team off the court are undeniable, the way she performs on the court is just as impressive.
As a freshman playing in the number two spot at the Big West tournament, Damion dropped the first set against Cal Poly's Steffi Wong, a player she had never beaten before. That did not stop her from rallying back and winning the next two sets to clinch the match for the Gauchos.
Damion has earned a reputation as a clutch player. Last year, she won a third set tie-breaker to win the deciding match in a 4-3 victory over Dartmouth.
"With her injuries, this is a third chance for her," added Kirkwood. "She really appreciates it, and her enthusiasm rubs off."
The UCSB women's tennis team has benefited from having such a good relationship with a tennis family like the Damions. "I know I'm lucky to get two of them, but I wish more were coming," said Kirkwood.
Damion recently took the time to answer some questions about herself.
1. What are your favorite things to do when you're not playing tennis?
"Relax at home, listen to music and cook/bake."
3. What is your favorite class you've taken at UCSB? Favorite Professor?
"Substance Abuse with Rich Powell."
4. What is your favorite food?
5. What is the best part about waking up in Santa Barbara every day?
"Knowing that I'm surrounded by friends."
6. Where is your favorite place to play tennis?
7. What will you miss the most about life at UCSB after you graduate?
"Having my own apartment and getting to play tennis everyday."
9. What is your favorite thing to do on an off day?
"Enjoy my time off and go shopping with friends."
10. What is your favorite movie?
"All the Harry Potter movies."
11. Who is your favorite musician/band?
"Story of the Year."
12. Who is the best player you've ever played tennis against?
13. What is your favorite place to eat in Isla Vista?
"Sam's To Go."
14. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
15. What actress would play you in a movie about your life?
"Sarah Michelle Gellar."
16. What is your favorite sport to watch other than tennis?
"Baseball - but only if the Angels are playing."
17. Who is your favorite author?
19. Is there a motto that you live by?
"Follow your bliss. Choose your fate."
20. In one word, how would you describe UCSB tennis?